The other day, I finally stole some time and vacuumed out my minivan. I was starting to live in fear of someone asking me for a ride.
Not only was there garbage, random hats, a broken umbrella and tracked-in leaves on the floor, there were bits of pretzels and popcorn and some unidentifiable foods stuck between the seat cushions of the middle and back seats. My kids weren't complaining (which was good, since they were mostly responsible for the mess), but it was crossing the line from messy to unsanitary.
We just aren't neat people.
Our house is constantly cluttered. It's not like we don't ever clean -- we do, and we hire people to come and really clean every couple of weeks. But surfaces (tables, countertops, chairs, sofas, floors) get covered (with books, newspapers, magazines, coats, school papers, clothes, toys and various random objects). It's their natural state. We're not going to get featured on "The Hoarders" or anything, but it's a bit chaotic. Not only that, but as the house is old, there's always something that we are in the midst of fixing. Let's just say that entropy rules.
With six people (our eldest has moved back in with us), a dog and two cats, clean is hard to come by -- at least not without a fair amount of effort. It's totally true that I could come home from work and get everything off the counter and table (again) and clean the bathrooms (again) and yell at the kids (again) to pick up all their stuff, but, well, I'd rather not.
When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time with the Sheehan family. They lived around the corner from us, and their two daughters were the same age as my younger sister. The father was a professor at the local university, and he hired me to come over after school and watch the girls so he could get work done.
I loved that family (I still do). They enjoyed each other and enjoyed life. They laughed a lot, read lots of books, cooked wonderful meals and loved to talk. They made everyone who visited feel welcome and appreciated -- including me. It was fun to be there.
I loved their house, too. It wasn't elegant, and was in various stages of renovation, but it had lots of places to curl up with a book -- of which there were many, in every room. There was a big round table that always could fit one more person for dinner. There were drawings and pictures of family and friends everywhere, in frames, stuck on a big cork board, taped to cupboards. The house was as interesting and welcoming as they were.
It was also generally pretty messy. Sometimes even pretty dirty.
It never bothered me. The message that the messiness sent to me was we have more important things to do. If there is some time left over after we talk, eat together, play together and finish this really great book, we'll clean. If not, well, it can wait.
That makes sense to me.
Maybe I'm just making excuses for my messy house and car. It's entirely possible. But truly, my time is so limited... and as I watch my children grow, I know how fleeting it is. We intervene before things get (too) unsanitary, and we do make the house nice for special occasions, but House Beautiful we'll never be.
So, if you come to visit or if I give you a ride, I hope you won't mind the mess too much. I hope you'll even forget it when you are with us (and the dog and the kittens, who love to play with guests). I hope that what you will remember is that we made you feel welcome and appreciated -- and that you had fun.